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How to Pick Up Portuguese Using Your Spanish Skills

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Did you know that Spanish and Portuguese are the closest two of the Romance languages, sharing 89% of the same vocabulary? 

Most language-lovers realize that Spanish is muysimilar to Portuguese – some linguists would even argue they are dialects of the same language. But how can you actually leverage this in your favor? 

Below we share the top language hacks on how to use your Spanish skills to quickly pick up Portuguese! 

But first, let’s address the elephant in the chat room… 

Is Portuguese More Difficult Than Spanish? 

Answer: Itdepends. We have to take the following into account: 

  • Most speakers of both languages claim to know more Spanish vocabulary but think Portuguese is easier to pronounce. 
  • Unlike Spanish, grammatical rules are not strictly upheld in everyday Brazilian fala (“speak”), making speaking a breeze but writing a bit more complicated. 
  • Brazilians are very forgiving when it comes to new language learners. They will likely encourage you with phrases like “You sound just like a Brazilian!” or “You speak Portuguese better than me!” even if you just say Oi, tudo bem? (“Hey, how are you?”). This cultural attribute makes for a very conducive learning environment. 

How You Can Use Your Spanish Skills to Learn Portuguese 

In this section, we will go over some tricks to help you transfer your grammar, pronunciation, and conjugation skills over from Spanish to Portuguese. 

Vocabulary in Spanish and Portuguese: Can You Spot the Differences? 

The vocabulary is the easiest part for Spanish speakers. 

Here are the top vocabulary hacks to remember: 

1. -ión → -ão 

Words ending in -ión in Spanish end in -ão in Portuguese (i.e. “administración” →  administração

2. z → ç: 

The cedilla (ç), or squiggly c, oftentimes replaces the soft c or z in Spanish Examples include abraço (“abrazo”), taça (“taza”), and dança (“danza”.)

3. -io/a → -o/a: 

The common Spanish diphthong  “io/a” is uncommon in Portuguese, and is replaced with o/a. Examples include espaço (“espacio”), justiça (“justicia”), and preço (“precio”). 

4. -ano/an → -ão: 

Even though Portuguese does have words that end in -ano/an, it is much more likely that words ending in -ano/an in Spanish will take an -ão suffix. Common examples include mão (“mano”) and pão (“pan”). 

5. -ito/ita → -inho/inha: 

The diminutive changes only slightly in Portuguese (i.e. “cafecito” →  cafezinho, “gatita” →  gatinha.) 

6. por+ el/la → pelo/pela: 

Not to be confused with pelo (hair) or pela (to peel) in Spanish, the words “por + el” and “por + la” transform into pelo and pela (i.e. “Voy a pasar por la casa.” →  Vou passar pela casa.) 

7. h → f

In Spanish, the Latin “f” often becomes an “h” (i.e. farina → “harina”), whereas the Portuguese (farinha), French (farine), and Italian (farina) stay true to the original. Other examples include formiga (“hormiga”) and forno (“horno”). 

8. -ales & -eles → -ais & -éis: 

Be on the lookout for different plural forms in Portuguese. The singular form of a word could be the same in both Spanish and Portuguese, like coral or hotel, but it changes in the plural form (i.e. “corales” corais, “hoteles” hotéis.)

9. muy & mucho/a → muito/a: 

Lucky for us, there is no difference in Portuguese between the Spanish words ”muy” and ”mucho.” In Portuguese, they are both muito, and follow the same gender and plural agreements as Spanish (i.e. “Muchas personas son muy bonitas.” →  Muitas pessoas são muito bonitas.)

Pronunciation: Can You Hear It? 

All you need to learn Portuguese is to tune your ears! 

The pronunciation (or phonetics) of Portuguese is the kryptonite of Spanish speakers. 

Many times the words are exactly the same in Spanish, letter for letter, and Spanish speakers miss out on a golden opportunity to understand a new language. 

Here are the best pronunciation hacks to use your Spanish knowledge to understand Portuguese. 

1. rr → /h/: 

The double “r” in Portuguese is not rolled, but sounds like an English “h” or Spanish “j”. Even though the word for car is carro in both Spanish and Portuguese, Spanish speakers don’t catch that the double “r” sounds like an /h/. 

2. -ão → nasal /ow/: 

The -ão in Portuguese sounds like a very nasal “ow” in English. Now, remember that  -ión →o and -ano/an → -ão from the vocabulary section? Don’t misunderstand these words because they end in a nasally “ow”. For example, educação sounds like /eh-du-ca-sow/. 

3. -al & -el→ /aʊ/: 

In Spanish, words ending in -al and -el have a hard “l” sound, whereas in Portuguese they have a long “u” sound, like in the words “house” and “out”. So that the word global  sounds like /glow-baw/. 

It’s easy! → ¡Es fácil! → É fácil! 

See? You can start to understand Portuguese right away using the Spanish skills you’ve already acquired. 

Don’t let your hard work and effort go to waste- use these easy hacks to pick up a new language today! 

Interested in learning more Portuguese? Check out our Brazilian Slang and Brazilian Street Style posts. 

Check out our tested Pimsleur Method to learn Portuguese on-the-go. 

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